The Facebook post announcing the existence of the essay credits Eddie Muller for some form of editorial surgery that's not specified, but that will be obvious even to the untrained editor when reading the finished product. Gary is clearly pleased with the result, but the best analogy for how the piece actually reads is what happens when the plastic surgeon makes breast augmentation for a porn star just a bit too obvious.[EDIT: Gary's denials in his response below aren't entirely convincing given the exact wording that prefaces his Facebook post that will link you to the NWW essay on Stowe: "This piece is dedicated to the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, a first-rate writer (and editor) who took time he didn't have to help me become a better one." All that can be said in reference to the rebuttal is the following: if Eddie didn't have a hand in the editing, then the claim Gary makes about Eddie making him a better writer is, unfortunately, not borne out by the essay.]
The "success" of the article is not in showcasing the highly specialized talents of Madeleine Stowe, but in transforming a pleasingly idiosyncratic writer into another assembly-line journalist foregrounding ad copy stylistics in lieu of analysis. The attempt to magnify the significance of Stowe's intriguing but ultimately modest achievements is part/parcel of the type of puffery that should ideally be kept to a minimum in any publication, but that now proliferates in the pages of the NC e-zine like kudzu. (Don't be surprised if this feature is eventually linked up with some kind of special appearance, quite possibly at a TCM festival when we are safely past the pandemic, that will honor Ms. Stowe and follow in the footsteps of this feature by over-selling her achievements.)
The rubber meets the road in terms of this when Gary claims that Stowe creates a credible link to the femmes fatales of the 40s with her performance in CHINA MOON (1994). Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such a claim can be seen as being in a tiny minority of professional critics who've written about the film. Polymathic German critic Matthias Merkelbach, writing closer to our own time, is more representative of the prevailing opinion of the film and of Stowe's performance:
The writer and director strive for the classic film noir of the 1940s Double Indemnity (USA 1944) or Gilda (USA 1946) to make relevant stylistic elements shine: the femme fatale and the man inflamed in love on their way to either a mutual happiness or to doom, while a cruel husband stands in their way.
But not only does the lack of eroticism between Harris and Stowe affect this project: too often the logic of action simply does not correspond to the characters. Rather, the manuscript tries to appropriate the latter by force, so that some of its steps on the way to the finale become incoherent. Kyle Bodine himself comes under suspicion of murder, but that happens much too hastily and has no understandable relationship to the state of the investigation. Madeleine Stowe as Rachel Munro is also not a femme fatale, not even remotely.
Filmed in early 1991, China Moon, which appeared on DVD in Germany under the banal and misleading title A Hot Affair, is reasonably exciting and beautifully photographed, and in contrast to Madeleine Stowe, Ed Harris is committed and versatile. And so you can safely watch this film, but you don't have to.
Granted, Merkelbach is too harsh in his assessment of Stowe here, but other critics sense a disconnection or lack of authenticity in her portrayal of Rachel Munro. Gary (or was it Eddie?) compares her to Jane Greer and Joan Bennett, and those ladies in their most famous roles (OUT OF THE PAST and SCARLET STREET) have sadistic boyfriends, but neither of these characters dwell upon their sob stories the way Stanwyck does or attempt to detonate an explosive triangle as Hayworth does. The point that Gary (and Eddie) either overlook or deliberately paper over in quest of "a more perfect puff-piece" is that all of those classic noirs (DI, OOTP, GILDA, SCARLET) were much, much better-written than CHINA MOON (cobbled together by Roy Carlson, whose third--and last--screenplay this was). Merkelbach is solidly in line with the vast majority of reviewers who suggest that what unquestionably works in CHINA MOON is the performance of Ed Harris, whose work goes a long way to keeping the film from sinking into its own derivative morass.
Stowe clearly wanted to conquer a role of this type, having played around its edges for so long: she got herself into formidable shape... but that, along with the glamorized makeup, etc., deposit her into a realm where her off-kilter beauty is "tamed" into the "neo" paradigm that reigned in the 1990s. One can surmise that taking on such a genre-bound character (with the type of logical and emotional contradictions that many actresses have referenced as being part of the often-daunting challenge of playing such roles) may have chipped away at her sense of spontaneity. Caught in that crossfire, Stowe seems to have opted for the lesser of Yeats' two evils as they're presented in his poem "The Second Coming" (lack of conviction, as opposed to passionate intensity).
Stowe has aged more gracefully than most actresses in her age range, which made it viable for her to play an ageless glamazon villain on network television in the first half of the 2010's. Gary (or was it Eddie?) rhapsodizes shamelessly about her "return to form" on REVENGE--though he/they spend more time gushing about her make-up and 'do while appearing on THE VIEW than in describing ABC's latter-day answer to FALCON CREST as channeled through a shaky resemblance to the "The Count of Monte Cristo." One figures that when Eddie inevitably interviews Stowe (probably at TCM, quite possibly after a screening of BLINK, by far the most successful of Stowe's brief career as a big-screen headliner) he will allude to the show with that tone of voice that stands in for a knowing lurid glance, and Stowe will dish a bit of dirt while proclaiming how grateful she was for such a nice paycheck at that stage of her career and how much fun she had being bad.
And why should we expect this at the TCM fest? Because of the line slipped in about how Stowe was a favorite of legendary host Robert Osborne (Gary reminds us that he's a Canadian by spelling it "Osbourne"...) which is pump-priming product placement for a pitch of this idea to them. Don't be surprised also if Stowe is chosen by the FNF as a "modern master" of noir.
It will, of course, make for a "good event," which is clearly the top priority at this point. Stowe is witty and irreverent and charming, so regardless of how accurate any assessment of her filmography may be, the folks in the seats will enjoy seeing her in person. Hell, even I might go to see her, if only to hope that she might repeat her candid assessment of CHINA MOON that was printed in a profile of her a few years back:
Her movies are not always good, as she’d be one of the first to admit. During a 1994 interview, when a journalist asked about China Moon, a contemporary film noir she made with Ed Harris, Stowe told him, “You’ll laugh your ass off!” (The movie is not a comedy.)
Refreshing to discover that Stowe, unlike others, has not been sucked down the looking glass via any form of cinephiliac puffery.